If you're celebrating Earth Day this Sunday, perhaps you can spare a thought for the hefty price tag that comes with saving the environment. Rooftop solar panels and electric cars, for instance, are out of reach for many people. If you dream of a greener planet, but still worry about your budget, take heart. With a few simple alterations to your daily routine, you can be a friend to both Mother Nature and your wallet.
Consider these tips to help save the environment—and save money at the same time:
1. Stop drinking bottled water. Each American drank an average of 34 gallons of bottled water in 2014, a report from the Beverage Marketing Corporation found. Cases of bottled water add up. Besides, you're already paying municipal taxes for the water that flows through your tap—and it tastes just as good. Take advantage of that resource by filling up a reusable water bottle at home, and save some plastic in the process.
2. Bring bags to the grocery store. Plastic bags do irreparable harm to marine animals that confuse them for the plankton and jellyfish in their diet. If the joy of saving wildlife doesn't inspire you, investing in a reusable grocery bag can also save you money. While plastic bags wreak staggering environmental havoc, their economic impact is also substantial: The city of San Francisco, for instance, estimates that it costs taxpayers about $8.5 million a year to clean up, recycle and landfill plastic bags, the Wall Street Journal reported. Abandoning plastic also has a more immediate effect on your wallet: Cities like Washington, D.C. charge customers for using plastic. Bringing a reusable bag on your next trip to the supermarket will get you discounts at many popular grocery stores, such Kroeger's (5¢ per bag), Trader Joe's (5¢ per bag), and Whole Foods (10¢ per bag).
3. Check out Freecycle.org. One man's trash is another man's treasure is the cliche behind Freecycle.org. Check your local board on the site to search for household items, from furniture to technology, that other people want to give away. The site is also perfect for getting rid of your own useless junk. Freecycle is free to join (naturally), and it's a win for both you and the environment.
4. Recycle electronics. Think twice before you get rid of your old smart phone. You're hurting the planet and potentially missing out on some cash. The environmental payoff of repurposing electronic devices is big: For every million cell phones recycled, 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered and reused. But the reward to your checking account could also be sizable. Sites like Gazelle and uSell pay cash—and cover the shipping cost—for your old electronics like phones, tablets and computers. Major retailers like Best Buy and Amazon, as well as many wireless carriers, also have buyback programs for old electronics. Check out the EPA’s eCycling list for reputable electronics recyclers.
5. Ditch your car. If you can get work without driving, why not do it? You'll get some exercise, save some cash and help the environment. Even better, it will make you happier: Research suggests that people who walk, bike or use public transit to get to work are generally more satisfied with life. Don't want to spring for a bike? Many cities, including New York and Washington, D.C., offer bike share programs that charge you for the rental based on the time of your trip. Public transit is also a way to cut down on your carbon footprint on the way to work (check out some of your options here). And if your commute absolutely requires a drive, consider carpooling with colleagues: You'll all save on gas and the environment will thank you for reducing emissions.
6. Buy a power strip. Phantom power—the electricity your electronics suck up, sometimes even when they're unplugged—costs real money ($100 a year on average for every U.S. household). Theoretically, you can solve the problem by unplugging each device when you're done using it, but doing so can be difficult to remember. One quick fix: Plug all your electronics into a power strip, and then turn off the strip when you leave the room or house. A small one-time investment (power strips cost as little as $5.99 from Target) can yield big savings.
7. Substitute your light bulbs. Old light bulbs are another source of wasted energy. They use most of their power to produce heat rather than light. The average household spends about $264 on electricity for lighting every year. A switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, which are about 75% more efficient, can reduce the average home's annual light bill to $66. Though incandescent bulbs are more expensive than the traditional variety, they last up to six times longer, so it will be a while before you'll have to replace them.